James Frey – John Murray – NZ$39.99
I have to say first off that this book comes with baggage, or at least the author of the book does! James Frey gained a great deal of notoriety when his first book, A Million Little Pieces, published as a memoir, and made into a huge best-seller by an Oprah Winfrey book club choice in October 2005, proved to contain large dollops of fiction and loads of discrepancies. Oprah was so incensed she got him back on her show and censured him.
Actually I reckon it was a highly entertaining, piece of writing, (albeit rather gritty), and had he presented it as fiction it would all have been ok but of course he claimed initially that it was a genuine memoir.
This new book is very definitely a work of fiction, in fact at the outset the author states “nothing in this book should be considered accurate or reliable”.
I’ll go straight out on a limb and say I reckon this novel is a cracker of a read, a hugely entertaining if somewhat sprawling blockbuster of over 500 pages that kept me enthralled from beginning to end. Frey was a Los Angeles screenwriter before he wrote his first book but on the strength of his writing in his books to date, and the huge advance royalties he has been paid, I can’t ever see him going back to the film industry. He can really write although one would have to say I reckon he could face somewhat sterner editing.
Bright Shiny Morning is peopled with wonderfully drawn, often astonishing characters, some you will love and others you will hate, and they people four stories running parallel through the novel, which is also something of a history of the city of Los Angeles itself.
It is a huge achievement which I read in several long sittings. The characters in the main populate the seedy underbelly of the enormous metropolis that is L.A. There are drug dealers, actors, out-of-work actors and would-be actors, closet gays, the homeless of Venice beach, young people running from the mid-west attracted to the bright lights of the city, illegal Mexican immigrants, bikers - the good the bad and the ugly they are all here.
Notably there is Joe the 39 year old drunk who has a heart of gold but lives the life of a derelict on Venice beach, Esperanza, the US-born daughter of illegal Mexican immigrants who works as a maid for a very wealthy widow, Amberton Parker an A-lister actor who like his actress wife Casey has never come-out because of what it might do to their acting reputations, Dylan and Maddie who are young and in love and eking out a living in poorly paid jobs while all the while dreaming of living by the sea and a brighter future. And there are loads more.
The book has received plenty of negative attention, especially in Los Angeles, which doesn’t emerge as a place one would choose to live, But I rate it as imaginative and entertaining, a wonderful read especially on one of those long 12 hour flights New Zealander’s have to make when travelling to the northern hemisphere.